Happy May Day! In celebration of the warmer weather and the end of the drought, I created this series of things that grow in the ground. I always like cutaway-style illustrations so I created a view of what’s above and below the ground.
I’d found these chicken wire frames last year. I really liked the style except for one part: they had black velvet swing arms so they could be free-standing. The arms really distracted from the chicken wire, so I removed them and employed them in a little creative use last year.
As for the rest of it..? No deep meaning here, just an excuse to study the details and spend some time with watercolors.
For the new year I’ve finished a small set of art I started originally back in 2009. Each of these started off as a giveaway calendar from a Chinese restaurant. I’ve been collecting these and “repainting” them by painting over everything except the main image. I attempted to match both the colors and the painting style of the printed art as best I could to preserve the original look as much as possible.
Based on the animal (or fish) on each one, I chose a related Chinese folktale or mythology to illustrate. I also chose one element to outline to make it stand out. I watched a lot of cartoons growing up and always found the juxtaposition of a painted background with a flat, outlined animation cel set a particular tone about what merited attention.
Here they are in the window display at Kaleid Gallery, from left to right:
The Dragon God
Dragons are symbols of power, strength, and good luck, and have particular control over water.
The Monkey’s Loss
The monkeys abandoned peaches for corn, and then watermelons, and then lost it all in pursuit of a rabbit.
The Farmer’s Fence
The farmer, mourning the loss of a sheep after the fence broke, fails to mend it and later loses more.
The Rabbit In the Moon
The rabbit is a companion of the moon goddess Chang’e, and uses a mortar and pestle to pound the elixir of life.
Ye Xian (the “Chinese Cinderella”)
Ye Xian, a peasant girl, befriends a magical carp who helps her win the hand of the prince.
The Rooster’s Crown
After a skilled archer shot the eight suns, the ninth hid away until the rooster could coax it out.
This one is for friends Ted and Claire who live in Colorado, land of extremely variable weather. They wanted a painting that reflected some of the color and variety they see on a daily basis. After consulting with them about what they liked, I went through a few rounds of Photoshop mockups of possibilities. The combination of these large clouds with a hint of reddish mountains won out.
I decided to make a triptych out of it rather than use one large canvas. Since these were considerably bigger canvases than I could paint on the table I usually use, I painted them propped against my closet.
The mountains came together right away. Probably helps that the tones mostly matched the base layers of yellow ochre and burnt sienna. They were so fast and natural to paint that it made me think of Bob Ross. He must have made some happy little mountains for all of those happy little trees to be around.
The clouds involved a lot of drybrushing. I end up mashing my brushes quite a bit with this, but I was pretty good about washing them immediately and they don’t seem too much worse for the wear. I skewed a little lighter on the overall look so I could focus on the subtleties in the pink and golden tones while keeping the weight of the big puffy cumulus clouds.
The progression on this one was a little odd in that it hit a stage where I was pretty happy with it early on. That’s good and bad: the good thing is that it’s motivating to see it come together right away, and the bad thing is that it can make me nervous about moving ahead and messing it up. Once I started adding in the pink tones, I could see more clearly how much more was needed. Also, on some paintings I just get a clear sense of when I’m done, like my recent tomato painting. On others, I see a point where it’s close to where I want it to be and I need to stop myself from overworking it. This was one of those.
It’s ready to go to its new home in Colorado.
I have no explanation for the recent art hiatus other than a mental block. Been doing a little embroidery, a little drawing, a little pumpkin carving. Oh, and I ended up on a jury for a criminal case for almost a month. While in the courtroom, I got a notebook to keep track of details. During the little bits of downtime when the lawyers approached the bench, I started sketching things around the courtroom. Unfortunately the notebook has to stay in the custody of the court, so those handful of sketches are probably destroyed by now. But…it did get me sketching again, and it left me with a little free time during lunch.
The Hall of Justice is about seven or eight blocks from San Jose’s Japantown, so I had lots of lunches down there. It’s tiny–just a couple of blocks long–and just a cool little place with some great restaurants. I frequented a coffee shop called Roy’s Station which is in a remodeled auto service station, complete with original 50’s Coke machine. If you go, try the Spiced Dirty Chai (unsweetened chai + espresso). I’d had a few artist trading cards with me, so I started sketching the view from Roy’s. It was originally just the card on the right, but I felt it was a bit stark so I added another to make it a bit more complete.
It’s not quite accurate as I sat in three different spots, and it reminded me of how freaking hard it is to get perspective looking right. Even if I had a straight edge, get the vanishing points just a tad off and it’s going to look wrong. I like it as it looks, but when I was sitting in front of the real thing I winced at how torqued some of the distances ended up. Note to self: pick out the repeating patterns, like the flags, first and work from there…
That pointy thing on the far right is a sculpture. According to the guy that came and chatted with me for a bit during day 2 on this, represents how the lives of Japanese-American citizens were forced in a new direction during WWII. Fortunately, the local community was able to get re-established in the same spot after the war, and preserve a very cool part of SJ.
I decided I wanted to paint more, and to make more paintings for friends. A few years back, Alan and I took the engagement & wedding photos for our good friends Hannah & Amanda, and since they recently moved, it seemed like a great time to scope the place to figure out potential painting opportunities.I gave them a blank canvas for Christmas with the promise to paint whatever they wanted, and after talking through the possibilities, they opted for a beach landscape. The first thing I thought of was a scene with driftwood and glass fishing weights, but then realized that the path down to the beach where their ceremony had an interesting layout. The first sketch you’ll see is the quick digital draft to get their go-ahead, and the rest show the progression as I built it up. Enjoy!
There’s a crooked peach tree on our front lawn, one that yields a sizable bounty every August. And I have finally finished this peach painting, after beginning it a year or more ago.
Last year I decided I wanted to paint peaches from it, and got to sketching. Whatever little spark I’d had after making the sketches faded once I started painting the sky, though, quashed by doubt–a blue sky, really? is this kitschy? I’d started with a gold base, hoping that some of the shine would come through but realized that as an undercoat it just made the next layer of paint look dull and weather-beaten. I fixed it up enough to get a good blue and some reasonable clouds, but otherwise the empty sky was relegated to the side of my art table, gathering dust.
Seeing the peaches ripen this year motivated me to give it another go one evening, so I painted in the peach shapes using a copper paint, effectively repeating the same metallic-paint-as-undercoat mistake. Doh. It sat untouched for another few weeks. The peaches themselves began demanding attention, dropping off the tree, so we gathered them up and last Sunday made a batch of peach preserves. While making the preserves, I realized that this was it–if I didn’t work on the painting now, I would probably set it aside again for another year.
So yesterday I loaded up my iPod with Jill Sobule and a bunch of All Songs Considered podcasts and made myself go face the peach painting. In hindsight, I realize that three things made it possible to paint, and finish, now: a deadline, the daytime, and having peaches (both cut and whole) nearby. I guess there’s some subject matter that demands a mood–the Sleepy Hollow painting needed the nighttime, and this one needed the sun.
The cut peaches helped me match the color and paint a base for the cheery yellow insides, but then I got impatient while working on the skin. I held up the whole peach as a reference, and even took a picture of it in the right spot, but I wasn’t happy with the results as I painted because I was so concerned about messing up the edges or the sky. Time to mask. One I masked out the peaches it was a breeze–fast, loose, textured strokes. So much better!
I worked from the peaches themselves as much as possible, though at one point while I was feeling stuck I idly looked through the pics-in-progress on the camera. I was struck by how much more I noticed about the highlights of the peach, and used that little LCD preview as a reference to go back and fix it up. This also came in handy when I was almost done and started wondering whether I should hang it diagonally as I originally intended, or turn it on its side instead. I took pictures of it both ways, and also set it up and stared at it for a while each way before deciding to go back to the diagonal. And now, it’s done and hanging on the wall. Hallelujah!
Alan and I went on a big summer trip to Norway for Cordelia & Jørgen’s wedding. Post wedding, we stayed with them and friends at his aunt’s lovely cabin north of Fevik. I brought down a folding chair to the dock and sketched this during two sessions: one quieter, chilly time with a cup of hot tea, and later on a lazy mid-afternoon with a beer and good conversation with Cordelia.
It would’ve had some highlights on it, but my white colored pencil rolled away and consigned itself to the sea.